First Amendment Newsflash 6/26-7/9

Welcome to First Amendment Newsflash: the First Amendment Law Review’s new bi-weekly roundup of the latest in free expression and religious freedom news and commentary. Check here every other Sunday for a new edition! Need First Amendment news in the meantime? Follow FALR on Twitter and Facebook for regular updates.


Supreme Court News

In Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, the Supreme Court held 7-2 that excluding churches and religious organizations from otherwise neutral and secular aid programs violates the free exercise clause. Read The Atlantic’s analysis here.

Certs were granted, judgments were vacated, and cases were remanded to state supreme courts in three cases in Colorado and one in New Mexico dealing with use of public monies at religious schools. The Colorado cases look at a county school voucher program that allowed students to use vouchers to attend religious schools. The New Mexico case deals with a textbook lending program that excludes religious schools. These cases must be reconsidered in light of Trinity Lutheran.

Cert was granted in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado, a case that pits anti-discrimination law against free speech and free exercise by questioning whether it violates the First Amendment for Colorado anti-discrimination laws to require a baker to create cakes for same-sex weddings.

In the case involving travel restrictions imposed by a Trump executive order (Trump v. Hawaii), the Supreme Court granted cert and reversed lower courts’ preliminary injunctions “with respect to foreign nationals who lack any bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.” Plaintiffs in this case argue the travel restrictions violate the establishment clause because they were made with animus toward Islam. Read NPR’s analysis here.

Cert was denied in a case from the Seventh Circuit upholding Indiana’s ban on political robocalls, which had been challenged on First Amendment grounds.

Other Court News

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled that courts retain subject matter jurisdiction over cases that implicate ecclesiastical decisions of religious entities. In a case of a Catholic school allegedly discriminating against a disabled student in its admission decisions, the court explained that the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine does not entirely remove such cases from courts’ jurisdiction, but only requires that courts defer to ecclesiastical decisions of such entities when hearing these cases.

The District Court of Montana Great Falls Division upheld a preliminary injunction blocking the US Department of Agriculture from allowing the Montana Beef Council to pay for advertising campaigns using funds the Council receives from cattle producers as part of the required Federal Beef Checkoff Program.

ABC and Beef Products, Inc. settled in the libel case related to ABC’s reports about so-called “pink slime.”

Sarah Palin sued the New York Times in federal court, alleging a recent editorial defamed her by incorrectly drawing a connection between literature distributed by Palin’s PAC and a 2011 mass shooting.

A libertarian-leaning legal group filed a complaint in Washington State superior court alleging that Seattle’s “Democracy Voucher” program violates the First Amendment. The program uses property taxes to fund vouchers that Seattle residents can donate to their political candidates of choice. Plaintiff homeowners allege the program compels them to speak by allowing others to use their tax dollars to support candidates the plaintiffs oppose.

A Colorado superior court is being asked to examine the line between libel and the First Amendment in a case dealing with an angry customer calling a small business owner racist on Facebook.

In IMDb’s case challenging, on First Amendment grounds, a California law that requires them to remove certain information about actors, a federal district court judge denied California’s discovery motion, calling it “disturbing.”

The Fourth Circuit upheld the dismissal of a challenge to North Carolina’s law that allows magistrates to refuse to perform same-sex marriages, finding that the plaintiffs lacked standing.

The ACLU has filed suit against three Arkansas cities, alleging that the cities’ panhandling ordinances violate the First Amendment.

A student group at a Michigan community college filed a complaint against the college for a First Amendment violation after members claim they were told by campus police that they could not pass out constitutions because they had not received required approval from administration.

The Third Circuit ruled that there is a First Amendment right to film police activity in public.

A federal judge in Utah ruled that the state’s ag-gag bill, which prevented secret filming at farms and slaughterhouses, violates the First Amendment.

Federal Legislative News

The House Appropriations subcommittee passed a bill that would allow churches to endorse political candidates and maintain tax-exempt status, currently prohibited by the Johnson Amendment.

State Legislative News

The Louisiana governor vetoed the state’s Campus Free Speech bill, commenting that the bill would create an “overly complicated” regime, and that free speech on campus is already protected by the First Amendment and the Louisiana Constitution. Meanwhile, a similar bill was sent to North Carolina’s governor for signature.

The Florida governor signed the “Religious Liberties Act,” reaffirming students’ right to pray and express their religious views in school.

The Pennsylvania governor signed a stolen valor act, making it a third degree misdemeanor to impersonate a veteran for financial benefit. As discussed in this FALR blog post, stolen valor laws have faced First Amendment scrutiny in the past, but they may not violate free speech rights when they limit punishment to those who seek financial benefit.

Other News & Commentary

Facebook revealed that it deletes 66,000 posts per week, a number that is raising concerns among some free speech advocates. Many posts are removed for violating the network’s policies on “hate speech.” An investigative report by ProPublica examines and questions how Facebook discerns “hate speech” from political speech.

The TSA was considering a proposal to require passengers to remove books from their carry-on luggage for inspection. Groups such as the ACLU and EPIC questioned whether such a policy would raise privacy or First Amendment concerns. Testing of this policy was retired after a couple of days.

The New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board released a report detailing police interference with video recording. The report examined complaints of verbal and physical interference with civilian recordings of police activity, raising First Amendment concerns.

The Newseum Institute released results in its annual State of the First Amendment survey, which explores Americans’ attitudes toward the First Amendment.

That’s it for your First Amendment Newsflash June 26-July 9. See you again on July 23!

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